Many schools register for the Standard Bank/CSSA Computer Olympiad in order to use the First Round as a free aptitude test. This round does not require the use of computers, but will indicate which students have an aptitude for computer programming, and which should look for employment opportunities elsewhere.
"Last year we had 34 000 entries," explains Computer Olympiad manager Peter Waker. "The majority entered only for the first round in order to use the aptitude test, and that is fine with us."
The first round of the Olympiad is offered in two groups: Junior and Senior. For the Junior Division (grades 7 and 8) the main aim is to alert the learners to make the correct subject choices for a possible career in IT. For the Senior Division (grades 10, 11 and12) the aim is to encourage those with aptitude to plan for a tertiary course in IT.
"We would like to encourage young people with the necessary talent to make the right subject choices and consider a career in IT," adds Waker. "At the same time it helps tertiary institutions if students without the necessary aptitude avoid registering for Computer Science. All too often students discover their lack of aptitude and/or interest when they have already enrolled for an IT course, and when it is too late to change courses."
The second round requires participants to have the use of a computer and be familiar with a computer language – any computer language. It also takes place at participants own schools or nearby computer centres, but for the third round participants are brought together in Cape Town.
Four winners of the third Rround will be selected to represent South Africa at the International Olympiad in Informatics in Bulgaria in 2009.
In addition to the usual R37 000 prize money, IT billionaire Mark Shuttleworth has made an additional R100 000 prize money available for the third round for learners using the computer language Python.
Python is an open source language which may be used without payment. Shuttleworth wrote the software that made him a billionaire using such software, and he would like a generation of young South African programmers to have the same opportunities he did.